NextGen: Meet the former Burnley footballer St Helens have high half-back hopes for

Ross Heppenstall

St Helens youngster George Whitby - Credit: Lewis Tate/St Helens

The sight of teenage prop Noah Stephens making his senior debut in St Helens’ recent 60-4 win at Castleford Tigers was another heartening reminder of the club’s youth development system.

Saints are committed to producing homegrown talent but, with academy graduate Lewis Dodd headed for South Sydney Rabbitohs at the end of this season, the scrum-half spot will need filling.

George Whitby is a highly promising number seven who has come through the ranks at his hometown club and is being tipped for a bright future. Here, Love Rugby League charts the development of the highly-rated 18-year-old and assesses his potential.


Whitby hails from St Helens and comes from a family of staunch Saints supporters. He is currently finishing his A-Levels in Sport, Business Studies and Media Studies at Sixth Form in Rainford High School and will go full-time with Paul Wellens’ first-team squad this summer.

Whitby played for vaunted amateur club Blackbrook Royals before being signed into St Helens’ Scholarship system aged 14. He then progressed through the ranks and signed for the Academy when he was 16.

The local had has been touted as a special talent for some time and – like recent first-team debutant Stephens – Whitby played rugby union in Sale Sharks’ development programme before focusing on league when signing his Academy contract at St Helens.

As a promising junior footballer, Whitby also spent several years in the youth ranks at Burnley. Saints Academy coach Derek Traynor tells Love Rugby League: “George and his family are mad St Helens fans.

“I don’t think they’ve missed a game for years and it’s always been George’s dream to play for Saints. There were a lot of other clubs interested in him, but he was only ever going to join us and try and realise that dream.

“He’s just finished his A-Levels and will then go full-time with the first team along with Harry Robertson, who has already finished at college, and Owen Dagnall.

“George already does a bit of training with the first-team around his exams at the moment – and he’s shown he can handle that.”

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Style: “Tactically very good”

Whitby is a traditional scrum-half with the ability to guide his team around the park. He boasts a strong kicking game and excellent organisational skills which ideally suit the position he plays.

Traynor says of Whitby: “George has got good hands skills, his catch and pass is of a very high standard, he’s a great kicker and tactically very good.

“He’s a threat with the ball and has a great passing game, plus he’s fantastic organiser. George was also a very good footballer as a youngster, spending around five years at Burnley before joining Saints on Scholarship.”

Assessing Whitby’s physical attributes, Traynor adds: “George is 5ft 11in, so he’s certainly not small; he’s a nice build for a scrum-half.”

Super League future beckoning?

Whitby was among a nine-strong group which earned promotion into the Academy two years ago. He now plays for the Academy and Reserves so a first-team debut is the next step – although not necessarily this year.

“George is improving all the time and is an absolute sponge,” explains Traynor. “He can’t get enough information, plus he’s always asking questions and continually reviewing his own performances.

“He’s very honest with himself and has just taken everything in his stride when it has come along. I don’t necessarily see George making his debut this year, but I think it’ll happen further down the line.

“He will benefit from having a full pre-season with the first-team and getting used to the speed at which they play. You couldn’t meet a more dedicated lad and, from the moment he came in as a 14-year-old, he’s done everything to the maximum.

“He’s so committed to being successful and making the grade here that it’s hard to see it not happening.”

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Learning from Jonny Lomax

With Dodd leaving at the end of the year, it remains to be seen if Saints will bring in a replacement or look to promote from within. Jack Welsby and Moses Mbye could fill Dodd’s shoes alongside Jonny Lomax.

But Whitby and fellow rookie Will Roberts, who has just returned from an ACL injury, will also be in the mix. “Spending time with Jonny, and the likes of Moses and Jack, will be great for George and Will Roberts too,” says Traynor.

“Will has just come back from an ACL and him and George are now playing in the halves together for the reserves.” 

Player profile

Name George Whitby
Date of birth 17/05/2006
Position Scrum-half
Senior debut N/a
Honours Lancashire Academy (Origin)

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